After cooking for weeks in scorching heat, the West is erupting in massive wildfires so strong that smoke was visible on the East Coast Tuesday in cities like New York and Washington, DC
Air quality alerts were issued for New York City on Tuesday, and the National Weather Service urged sensitive groups to stay indoors.
More than 75 wildfires have already burned more than one million acres in 13 states. As of Tuesday, 3 million people remained under red flag warning covering eight states in the northwest and the northern plains, including the area of the Bootleg fire in Oregon, currently the largest blaze this year.
Now classified as a mega-fire or a blaze burning over 100,000 acres, the Bootleg Fire set ablaze over 350,000 acres, about half the size of Rhode Island, and was only 30% contained on Tuesday .
The conditions surrounding the area showed extreme fire behavior, and the massive hell was so powerful that it created its own climate, generating dangerous columns of smoke and lightning-laden ash called pyrocumulus clouds. or pyrocumulonimbus, reaching the stratosphere. These can reach over 40,000 feet in the atmosphere – the altitude at which commercial airplanes fly.
The fire at the Beckwourth complex, which rages in northern California, topped 100,000 acres burnt, also winning the mega-fire title. With more than 1,000 active firefighters, the fire was nearly 90% contained on Tuesday.
Pacific Gas and Electric, California’s largest utility, could be responsible for another fire in northern California. On Sunday, a spokesperson admitted that blown fuses on one of its utility poles could have started the Dixie fire, which spans 30,000 acres and is growing. It comes after PG&E took responsibility for the devastating 2018 camp fire and the 2019 Kincade fire that burned more than 100 square miles of Sonoma County.
According to an update Monday from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CAL FIRE, compared to the same time last year, there are more than 900 additional fires and 165,000 additional acres burned. For context, 2020 was the worst western fire season in history.
The situation has become so dire that the National Interagency Fire Center has raised the National Readiness Level to the highest category, Level 5, which means at least 80% of wildland firefighters are currently responding to a fire.
The growth and spread of wildfires is expected to intensify during the week as another major heat wave roasted the High Plains and Rocky Mountains, peaking on Monday. Triple-digit temperatures, combined with humidity as low as 10% and wind gusts of up to 40 mph, will produce ideal conditions for forest fires. Another major concern is the dry thunderstorms expected to erupt along the northwestern interior, producing abundant lightning that could easily trigger sun-scorched vegetation.
Climatologists are certain that such extreme temperatures would have been “virtually impossible without climate change”.